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Killing or managing pain in horses

Pain becomes suffering when its message is ignored

Although painkillers appear to bring relief and improvement in a horse’s condition, their indiscriminate use may not be the most intelligent means to furthering health and well-being.

It has become easy to relieve pain and inf lam-mat ion with present-day drugs. Phenylbutazone is the one most commonly used in horses due to its moderate price, effectiveness and availability.

Painkillers interrupt the chemical pathways that carry out the message of pain in the body. They are remarkably good at their job. However, my experience is that the pain is delivering a message from the body. The body is asking for care and attention. Simply eliminating the pain does little to touch and understand its cause.

At best it may be the catalyst which allows the cause of pain to be recognized and changed. Pain does and can leave on its own when its cause is addressed. Do not confuse pain with suffering – pain becomes suffering when its message is ignored.

Here’s an analogy. The smoke alarm in your house goes off. You do not call the fire department. You simply deal with the smoke alarm by disconnecting its wiring. You have deluded yourself into thinking you will have a nice day, but you won’t. The relief is temporary. The smoke alarm is telling you there is smoke.

Investigating the cause of the smoke is your next best action. Perhaps it is your toast that is burning or perhaps faulty electrical wiring in the basement has resulted in a fire. The smoke alarm is not unlike pain which calls attention to trouble that is brewing. It is not the trouble itself. After all, you put the smoke alarm in for your own safety.

Pain is a highly evolved means of communication from within the body. The message can be as simple as rest – do not use whatever is hurting for now, not forever and ever, just not for now.

Horses that have col ic may need dietary or lifestyle changes. Once these changes are integrated into their lives, the colic leaves. Horses that listen to their pain message may limp and as inconvenient as that limp may be it is valuable if not instrumental in the horse making intelligent choices in taking care of itself. Nature tends to restore health in the most expedient and kindest of manners, whether or not we are aware of it.

Of course painkillers do have their place in healing. Horses that are relieved of pain rest comfortably and eat well. These too are valuable to restoring health. Combining pain management with mindful attention to the cause of the pain brings refreshing answers to pain relief in horses. These new answers may lie in dietary adjustments, lifestyle changes, and horsemanship awareness.

Understanding the message in pain allows its cause and purpose to be recognized and addressed. In this way pain is managed in a manner which effects changes that truly benefit the horse and the people whom care for them.

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